Friday, 15 June 2012 11:39

Sandpiper Phosphate Project to Have Minimal Environmental Impact

The Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP Pty) a company formed by Minemakers Limited (ASX & TSX: MAC), UCL Resources (ASX: UCL) and Namibia's Tungeni Investments running the Sandpiper Marine Phosphate Project' to mine phosphate underwater off the southern Namibian shore is eager to proceed with extraction. Having already assessed the economic viability and quality of the resource, NMP faces an important environmental hurdle as it tries to convince the Namibian government, and fishing industry representatives in particular, that the Sandpiper Project will have minimal impact on marine life, the coast and its fisheries.

The Sandpiper project itself has very good potential. NMP projects the mining activity to last 25 years, though it has estimated that the roughly 2,200 square kilometer area being prospected, has the potential to produce phosphate for over 200 years. A feasibility study (FS) released last May suggested that the Sandpiper Project to be a long lasting project with an annual production of 3 million tons of phosphate concentrate product (rock phosphate) "grading 27.5 - 28.0% P2O5 over an initial mine life of 20 years, including a two-year ramp up period". The FS has indicated a strong phosphate mineralization unconsolidated sediment from the seabed off Namibia's Walvis Bay. The type of phosphate to be extracted, called 'Namphos', is said to be very suitable for direct soil application and as rock phosphate feed for phosphoric acid.

The phosphate is extracted by dredging the sea floor. The dark sand or sludge is collected and transported by boats, linked to the main dredging ship, to the shore, where it would be stockpiled and made available for shipment. NMP has made a strong case that the phosphate mined in Namibia would address both domestic Namibian agricultural needs as well as those in other countries of southern Africa; the phosphate would also be available for export to meet wider international demand. Such is the demand for phosphate, especially in the long term, that undersea phosphate makes economic and business sense. The Sandpiper project will involve dredging at depths ranging between 180 and 200 meters. NMP management has projected the cost of production to be about USD$57/ton, which is relatively low considering that the cost of shipping phosphate from Morocco alone is about USD$70/ton.

NMP has addressed concerns raised by the fishing industry and environmentalists noting that the Company has performed rigorous environmental impact studies, including a formal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. NMP has also provided regular updates to the relevant Namibian government authorities including the ministries of Mining, Fisheries and the Environment. NMP has also addressed issues raised by environmentalist groups and the local coastal residents. The dredging process and how it will impact marine life is the main issue worrying the various concerned parties. Fishermen have been among the most vociferous project opponents. The ministry of fisheries and other government bodies have been more compromising; however, they have asked for as much disclosure as possible from NMP, considering that fisheries accounts for at least 5% of the Namibian economy. NMP's project manager, David Wellbeloved is adamant that the project will proceed and that the Company has committed to having the project scrutinized according to the strictest environmental monitoring, including recommendations from independent analysts, which have been integrated within NMP's 'Environmental Management Plan'.

In an interview with the Namibian press, Wellbeloved said that "Environmental impact assessment studies have shown that the recovery of phosphate sediment in the mining area (ML170) can be undertaken with relatively low impact to the seawater quality," Independent analysts have stated that the dredging would not be harmful to marine life and water quality. While NMP is the first to run an underwater phosphate project, diamonds are already being mined underwater off the Namibian coast, the impact of which could be more severe than that of the Sandpiper project. Moreover, some environmental and independent researchers have suggested that land-based mining can cause more intense damage than underwater mining. Land based mining, argue the researchers, leaves a deeper mark on the environment based on emissions from machinery to discarded rock and pollution in waterways. Sea mining leaves much less waste-rock as the deposits are dug from the seabed; there are also no shafts. That said NMP has proceeded with care to ensure that all environmental issues are addressed in expectation of a successful venture.

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